You know you’re depressed when the first thing you think about in the morning is how you wish you were still unconscious — and not for sleepiness reasons. With such low inclination to start your day, it’s hard to figure out how to motivate yourself when you’re depressed. Depression is a serious mental health issue, but there are ways to get up and get moving when you have it.
Understand How Your Depression Works
Depression has many names. It is sometimes called major depressive disorder or clinical depression. Other times it is called dysthymia. Whatever name it goes by, depression is a serious mood disorder the negatively impacts how people think, feel, sleep, eat, work, and go about other daily activities.
You’re not depressed if you feel down for a few days. Most people who are diagnosed with depression must have symptoms for at least two weeks. The common forms of symptoms are as follows:
- Persistent depressive disorder, in which a depressed mood lasts for at least years. People diagnosed with this disorder may have periods of severe depression, followed by less serious symptoms. Overall, though, depressive symptoms last for two years.
- Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), aptly, is when you feel depressive symptoms when winter comes around. In winter, there is less natural sunlight, and people tend to spend more time indoors than in spring and summer. The winter depression could coincide with increased sleep, social withdrawal, weight gain, and returns to a less depressive state when winter ends.
- Postpartum depression. It’s not the same as a mild depressive and anxiety symptoms after two weeks of a woman delivering a baby. A woman who delivers a baby might experience severe sadness or exhaustion that come along with postpartum depression, making it difficult for parents to care for their own needs or the needs of their children.
- Depressive symptoms due to polar disorder. Bipolar disorder is characterized by extreme mood swings that occur within a day, weeks, or even months. Those with bipolar disorder exhibit mania — which is feeling extremely euphoric, motivated, ambitious, followed by periods of the opposite. The opposite of mania is depression, and it can be severe depending on the person’s bipolar disorder.
When Should You Get Serious Help?
If you’re not motivated to keep living anymore, stop reading this article and call a suicide hotline. You can call 1-800-273-8255.
Many people can live with depressive symptoms for a long period, finding ways to cope with their depression symptoms. However, if you’re contemplating suicide as a result of your depression, this is a symptom you should not handle alone. Know that it’s normal and completely okay to get help.
Know the Importance of Goal Setting When You Have Depression
Depression makes it extremely difficult to do tasks that would take a neurotypical person less time to do, such as getting out of bed to brush one’s teeth, take a shower, eat food, or do a variety of other daily tasks.
It’s important to forget what neurotypical people do and focus on your limitations. Sure, it can take someone five minutes to get into and out of a shower, but if you’re fighting the urge to crawl back into bed and fall back asleep, you need to work at your own pace.
Goal setting is a great way to accomplish daily activities in a manner that fits your energy levels. You can settle on the basic activities you would like to do, such as brushing your teeth, eating, and going to work.
Setting small, specific goals ensures you don’t feel overwhelmed with the amount of stuff you could do but lack the energy for, which could further demotivate you in your depressive state. Avoid a long list of things you’d ideally like to get done. Focus on the essential tasks that need to get done for a functional life.
However, if you’re depressed but still want to tackle ambitious tasks, such as writing a book, starting up a business, or reaching a weight goal, you’ll have to break down large goals into bite-sized pieces. Large tasks easily overwhelm anyone, but little things you can do daily, such as writing for five minutes, means you accomplish bigger goals over a long period.
Force yourself to work on your goal for one minute a day. Even if you only have the energy to do 30 seconds of productivity, that’s still better than not doing anything at all. If you consistently work toward your goal, you’ll eventually accomplish it. You can work on increasing the amount of time dedicated to your daily productivity the more you acclimate to being productive.
Be sure to keep steady measurements of your goals so you don’t lose track of when you did and didn’t complete a task. Don’t be discouraged if you weren’t able to keep a streak for whatever reason. Just focus on what you could improve on and do better rather than dwell on what you could have done better (often difficult when you have depression, but still must be done).
Here Are the Best Ways to Stay Motivated When You’re Depressed
Focus On One Thing at a Time
Once you’ve settled on the goals you want to accomplish for the day, do only one task at a time. If you need to brush your teeth, try not to do anything but brush your teeth. Don’t return to bed, to go onto YouTube or lose yourself in Netflix. Tell yourself you can only finish one task before you’re allowed to move onto anything else.
Depression makes it difficult to find the motivation to do many things, but you can often find the vigor take things one task at a time until you’ve finished your daily to-do list.
Figure Out How You Use Your Energy
For example, do you need to do a bunch of easy tasks to get momentum to work toward hard ones? Do you prefer to blitz your way through a series of tasks to get them done as quickly as possible, freeing you up to use your energy however you want the rest of the day? Or do you need to pace yourself with lots of breaks in between tasks?
Understand how you best operate and plan your day around that knowledge. If you’re a blitzer, you could schedule activities all around the same time of day to preserve your energy before and after your tasks. If you need lots of breaks between tasks, you’ll have to give yourself more time to do things and find ways to pad your schedule.
Pep Yourself Up
Some people think it’s cheesy, but showering yourself with compliments after you’ve finished a task is a great way to make going about that task easier.
For example, you could say, “Hey, I take a shower and change my clothes. That took a lot of energy, and I’m proud that I did that.” You don’t have to go overboard and kiss your own butt, but you can notice how difficult it was to accomplish a task then applaud yourself for actually doing it.
Positive self-talk can take a more general approach as well to stop you from getting entrenched in negative thoughts. Instead of saying, “I’m useless and unlovable,” you could say, “I’m useful and beneficial in people’s lives.” Again, you don’t have to be overly verbose in your self-love, but moving away from negative language to a more neutral tone is needed to get to positivity.
Other examples of positive self-talk:
- “I’m doing the best I can, and that’s fine with me.”
- “My family and friends love me, and they show that they care about me.”
- “Depression is not permanent.”
- “I can/will recover from depression.”
Find One Thing You Like About Yourself Each Day
As Karamo Brown from Netflix’s hit show Queer Eye has said, self-love can be small. It doesn’t matter about what you focus on as long as the appreciation for yourself is there.
For example, you could say that you have nice cuticles and that you love how your cuticles look. Maybe you like the shape of your eyebrows or your handwriting. Whatever that thing is, you break the habit of hating everything about yourself. When you say no, there are a few things that are quite lovely about you, you accrue more and more positivity in your self-image.
Get Some Sunlight and Fresh Air
Sunlight releases serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is a brain chemical associated with increased mood and feeling pleasant and calm. Less sunlight in winter has been strongly associated with the occurrence of seasonal affective disorder.
Boost your serotonin levels by going outside for a few minutes. The fresh air wouldn’t hurt either. Perhaps you could strike up a conversation with someone next to you — a neighbor or a passerby. At the very least, waving hello to someone and having them wave back at you is an acknowledgment that you’re alive and can be a bright point in someone’s day.
If you find yourself near a bit of unadulterated nature, even better. Access to environmental spaces has been shown to reduce depression and other mental health issues. Going for a nature walk can clear your head and remind you that you are a part of an ecosystem, which can be affirming to your self-worth.
Best of all, trees don’t care if you haven’t brushed your teeth or changed your clothes in a while. You don’t have to worry about looking presentable, just about getting a mental reset from being surrounded by the great outdoors.
Play Your Favorite Energetic Songs
We all have a few. Pull up Spotify or handy-dandy YouTube to blast songs that are sure to get you smiling and bopping around. A few recommendations include Corinne Bailey Rae’s “Put Your Records On,” “Hey Ya!” by OutKast, and “I’m Yours” by Jason Mraz. It’s pretty much impossible to be upset and hear those songs.
Don’t let our music recommendations speak for you, though. Cultivate a playlist of mood-boosting songs based on your tastes. High-tempo songs with positive messages are preferred, but anything goes if it has the desired cognitive effect in you.
Go for fast, beat-focused songs with syncopated rhythms. Research shows that punchy beats are what get people up and grooving, and if you can find songs like that from whatever era or genre, you can lose yourself in the music for just a little bit.
Also, don’t forget about a cappella. Experts say that listening to human voices draws a faster connection between what you hear and your emotional response. There are thousands of a cappella covers of popular songs on YouTube you could give a try. It’s not all Glee songs and Kidz Bop, as professional collegiate or private groups create high-quality performances.
Lastly, if there are songs you associate with a good time, include those on the playlist as well. These could be songs from your childhood or teen years, anything that reminds you of positive emotions when you need them. Nostalgic songs are sure to give you a quick mood boost to start your day.
Reward Yourself Often
If your depression worsens and you find it particularly hard to accomplish daily goals, be sure to reward yourself with what you do happen to get done. If you went out to buy groceries and finish chores, you should stop by a shop to get yourself a sweet treat or at a coffee shop for your favorite drink.
Rewards are a great way to train your brain to work through adversity. You can hack your brain to create your own habit loop. Pushing through low energy trains your brain to anticipate a reward, prompting you to get through the depression-induced adversity to get to the reward.
Using rewards not only gives you something to look forward to after plucking up the energy to accomplish your tasks but can make it easier to accomplish those tasks in the future.
Use Technology to Remind You to Do Things
One of society’s curses is that almost everyone has a smartphone. However, one of the best things about smartphones is that you can have a personal assistant reminding you to do basic activities when you would usually forget to do otherwise.
For example, you could set three alarms each day and label them separately as “breakfast,” “lunch,” and “dinner,” thus reminding you that you need to eat at a certain time. You could also set the alarm to remind you to text people back or to check your email, an alarm to remind you to take medications.
When you’re by your phone a lot, setting up alarms can be a great way to motivate you to do the essential items on your daily to-do list so that you feel like you’ve achieved something, even if a little.
Get a Pet
If you live alone or with a complying roommate, pets are a great way to reduce depressive symptoms. Dogs and cats are loyal creatures (well, it depends on the cat) that can provide companionship in addition to another being to care for.
When you have another living thing to care for, you are forced into a regular schedule for your furry companion’s health and wellbeing. This also forces you into a regular schedule, so while you feed your dog or cat, you can feed yourself too while you’re at it.
Most importantly, pets like dogs or cats provide a source of love and support that you might not feel you’re getting elsewhere. When you’re dog jumps up to greet you at the door or your cat massages your belly, you know another creature on this earth is happy you are there, which should make you happy too.
Give Baking or Journaling a Try
Baking or cooking has been a common stress-reliever for years, but there’s actual science suggesting that making food can help improve your mood. Particularly, those who take up small, creative projects have been shown to have better moods than those who don’t.
So if you follow a cookie recipe but add a few special ingredients to make it your own, not only will you have tasty cookies to munch on but a small dopamine fix to make you happy. Journaling allows you to express your thoughts and critically think about your day while allowing you to feel like you’ve accomplished something in your day.
Setting up such minor tasks can be the cognitive treat you need to get up and do other things with your day.
Do Things With Friends
You could do the most mundane things, such as scrolling through your phone or going for a stroll around the neighborhood. However, it will be much more enjoyable to do that mundane activity with another human around, especially if that human is your friend.
Social withdrawal is one of the most damning depression traps you could fall into, as humans are inherently social creatures and need healthy social lives for proper mental health. Depression may cause you to spend more time by yourself, but if you reach out to a friend to simply be by you, you are not isolated anymore.
You’re free to chat with your friend about things that are bothering you or simply sit in silence. Whatever you want to do, do it with someone beside you to boost your mood.
You’ve heard this before, and we’ll say it again — exercise is a great way to improve your mental health and feel like you’ve accomplished something good for your body. Some intensive exercise that produces a runner’s high in your brain releases dopamine, a feel-good chemical that reduces depressive symptoms.
Exercise could give you something to look forward to doing. Well, no one enjoys running while they’re actually doing it, but the sense of accomplishment and minor dopamine trip afterward feels like enough of a reward. Even if it’s just a jog around the block, incorporate exercise into your schedule to improve your mood and gain the energy to accomplish other tasks.
Do Low-Energy Activities If You Can’t Exercise
If you find that you can’t go for a run, bike around, or go for a swim, there are other options for you. For example, you could take up yoga or simply do total body stretches to relax your body and get your blood flowing.
Yoga is a great way to improve mood since it forces you to focus on your breath and adopt meditative practices, which we’ll expand upon in a moment. Stretching limbers up the body that may have been tensed up due to inactivity. Yoga and stretching are excellent gateways to more intensive exercises like running.
No matter where you are, you can always stretch. Even if you can’t leave the bed, you can stretch your legs and ankles from a laying down position. Your arms and wrists could be next. Any progress for better physical health is better than no progress at all, and anything can give you the momentum to pursue more intensive physical activities.
Meditation has been shown to refill the empty neurotransmitters caused by depression. Meditation also forces you to focus on the present moment, which can disrupt past or future ruminations common in depression.
When you do low-energy activities as a form of exercise, you can improve your mood and energy levels enough to take on bigger tasks.
Communicate Your Situation to Others
If a particularly bad depressive episode causes you to stop hanging out with friends or put your professional life on hold, be sure to reach out to people when you’ve experienced mental obstacles.
Most people will wonder where you have gone. When you explain that you’re going through depressive symptoms, you’ll be surprised at the amount of support you’ll get. Some people might offer up anecdotes about their struggles with depression as well, or give you kind words of encouragement.
Telling people why you’ve been missing is not only the polite thing to do, but it can show you that you’re not alone in your mental health struggles. When you know you have people in your corner, you could be more likely to push through bumpy patches with depression and accomplish more things on your to-do list.
Avoid Drugs and Alcohol
One in four adults with mental health issues also has a substance abuse disorder, according to Dual Diagnosis. When you’re going through a rough patch in your mental health, it would be tempting to take the edge off with a few beers or smoking marijuana.
However, using substances to numb the pain of your depression could quickly lead to codependency, which could cause other issues in your life. You’ll be battling two mental health issues instead of one, making the uphill battle you already face even steeper.
Avoid using drugs or alcohol when you’re in a depressive episode. If you find yourself already intertwined with substances, it would be best to go to Alcoholics Anonymous or participate in a SMART recovery program, which focuses on moderating substance use rather than fully abstaining from them.
Focus on Improving Your Sleep Schedule
Depression can do weird things to your circadian rhythm. You might experience insomnia, forcing you to stay up all night then sleeping all the next day to catch up. When you sleep during the day, you miss eating, practicing proper hygiene, or hanging out with your friends — all necessary to maintaining proper mental health.
You should be paying extra special attention to your sleep health. Try using exercise several hours before bed to tire your body into a more sleep-desiring state. You could also use supplements such as melatonin or drowsiness inducing teas to get you more ready for bed.
Of course, avoid looking at screens at least 30 minutes before bed to reduce blue light exposure. If anything, get a boring book you were assigned in high school English class such as Moby Dick or Great Expectations. You should be out in minutes.
Talk to a Therapist
If none of these tips are working, it might be best to contact a therapist. Therapy has been stigmatized, but don’t feel bad for needing therapy. It could be the step needed to redirect your life.
A licensed, effective therapist could diagnose any underlying psychological causes that could be fueling your depression, such as unresolved trauma or layers of unexpressed emotions like anger, resentment, or jealousy. Cognitive behavioral therapy, or talk therapy, has been shown to drastically help depressed patients, so don’t shy away from the power of therapy.
Motivating Yourself When Depressed is a Culmination of Habits
It’s just that depressions strips away any desire you might have to accomplish such habits. However, if you follow the advice in this article and set up small goals, you can use momentum to get a handle on your depression as opposed to getting completely swallowed up.
Depression is difficult, and don’t let anyone minimize your experience. However, depression isn’t the end-all-be-all. You can find the minor ways to motivate yourself and still cause major positive changes in your life.